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Torah Attitude: Parashas Mishpatim: Together they are righteous


"The mishpatim of G'd are true, together they are righteous." There are two kinds of commandments in the Torah, Mishpatim (ordinances) and Chookim (decrees). If we combine the two meanings of the word "mishpatim" it brings us to an understanding of the way that G'd sustains the world. "A person should investigate the mishpatim of the Holy Torah and understand as far as he is able." It does not seem fair that there is no solution to allow the wife to remarry when she is unable to receive a "Get". We have no way of second-guessing G'd's judgments. A doctor should not say "if G'd made you sick, why should I heal you?" Our All Merciful Father in Heaven is the only one Who sees the total picture. Most individuals are brought into this world to rectify mistakes and blemishes that their souls have brought upon themselves in previous lives. In the world of truth, everything is just and righteous.

Righteous together

In the beginning of this week's parasha it says: (Shemos 21:1) "And these are the mishpatim [ordinances] that you shall place in front of them." In Tehillim when King David speaks about the "mishpatim" of G'd he says: (Tehillim 19:10) "The mishpatim of G'd are true, together they are righteous." This needs clarification. What does it mean when it says "together they are righteous"?

Mishpatim and Chookim

In order to answer this we must understand the two kinds of commandments we find in the Torah: Mishpatim (ordinances) and Chookim (decrees). In general, says the Talmud (Yuma 67b, see also Rashi Vayikra 18:4-5) the Mishpatim are logical, such as the prohibitions against idol worship, immorality, bloodshed, robbery and blasphemy. On the other hand, the Chookim are Heavenly decrees that are beyond human understanding. These include the prohibitions against eating pork and wearing garments made of a mixture of wool and linen. Other examples are the laws of chalitza (see Devarim 25:7-11), the purification of a metzora (see Vayikra 14:1-32) and the sending of a goat to Azazel as part of the Yom Kippur service in the Temple (see ibid 16:7-11). However, sometimes there are also mishpatim that are difficult for us to understand and seem unfair. In order to appreciate the justice and fairness of every commandment, we must remember that they were all given by G'd, Who with His omnipotent knowledge, knows what will happen to every individual throughout the generations. This is part of how G'd leads the world.

Two meanings

The Hebrew word "mishpatim" has two meanings: (1) The ordinances written in the Torah to the Jewish nation how to conduct ourselves with our fellow human beings; and (2) G'd's judgments on every individual. We can understand the meaning of the words of King David by combining these two meanings of the word "mishpatim". G'd's judgments can either come as a direct act of G'd or as an outcome of an ordinance given in the Torah. This is what King David said: The ordinances of the Torah are always righteous for they are part of G'd's judgments.

Not an empty thing

In his final words to the Jewish people, Moses says in the name of G'd (Devarim 32:46-47): "Apply your hearts to all the words that I am testifying to you today for it is not an empty thing for it is your life." On this the Jerusalem Talmud comments (Paiah 1:1) "If it appears empty, it is due to a lack of your understanding. You have not toiled sufficiently to understand the words of the Torah." The Rambam (The Laws of Meilla 8:8) elaborates on this principle and says: "A person should investigate the mishpatim of the Holy Torah and understand them as far as he is able. And if something does not make sense to him and he cannot find a reason for it, he should not take it lightly His thoughts on the matter should not be like if he was dealing with a secular subject."

Giving a Get

Some years ago, I had a meeting with a very respected lay leader. In the course of our conversation he told me that he has a problem with one of the laws of the Torah. It is well known that a Jewish woman who has been married is not free to remarry unless she receives a "Get" (a halachic divorce document) from her husband. Unfortunately, in recent years there has been an increase of incidents where recalcitrant husbands refuse to give a "Get" to their wives, thereby creating tremendous agony to these unfortunate women. In times of war or catastrophe a similar problem arises when a husband disappears and there is no clear evidence of his death. This respected leader indicated that it does not seem fair that there is no solution to allow the wife to remarry, when she is unable to receive a "Get".

No way to second-guess G'd

We must always remember that the Torah's mishpatim were given by our All Merciful G'd. When G'd gave these mishpatim He was aware and took into consideration every situation for every individual at any time. We must accept that the inability of these women to remarry is part of G'd's judgment. We have no way of second-guessing these judgments. G'd may sometimes let a person suffer in this world to merit a better portion in the World to Come (see Talmud Berachot 5a). One thing we know for sure, nothing will happen to any person without G'd bringing it about. As it says in this week's parasha regarding someone who kills another person unintentionally (Shemos 21:13): "And G'd had caused it to come to his hand." Rashi quotes the Talmud (Makkos 10b) that explains that this is referring to two killers: one killed on purpose and the other by accident. Both of them did not get punished as there were no witnesses present. G'd therefore brought them together in one place where the one who killed without intent fell down upon and killed the one who had killed with intention in front of witnesses. Now the first one will receive his punishment and has to go into exile, and the other one got his deserved death penalty.

Doctors may heal

Even when someone intentionally harms another person, G'd has His reason why He allows this to happen. We find an example of this as well in this week's parasha. It says (Shemos 21:18-19) "If men are fighting and one hit his fellow with a stone or a fist he shall pay for his lost time and he shall provide healing." The Talmud (Bava Kama 88a) states that this teaches that it is permissible for a doctor to heal. Rashi explains that the Talmud wants to establish that a doctor should not say "if G'd made you sick, why should I heal you?" The Chofetz Chaim asks why would the doctor claim that G'd made this person sick? He was hit by another person, not by G'd. Says the Chofetz Chaim, from here we learn that when we endure any pain or suffering, even if it is inflicted through a human being, it is a manifestation of a Heavenly decree and judgment. When two people fight and one hits the other, we would have thought that the person being hit has only himself to blame for getting into the fight. However, our sages teach that, in general, it is G'd's judgment that made him suffer.

Not spare punishment

Obviously, the fact that anything happening to a person is part of G'd's judgment does not in any way justify the conduct of the one who did a misdeed, or spare him from his punishment. The Mishnah (Pirkei Avos 2:7) relates Hillel's comment when he saw a skull floating on the water: "Because you drowned others you were drowned, and in the end those who drowned you will be drowned." Just like Pharaoh was punished for afflicting pain upon the Jews, although this affliction was part of G'd's Masterplan, so will everyone who causes pain to another person eventually be punished. No husband will be spared what is due to him for refusing to give his wife a Get. G'd has plenty of time. He may punish the person in this world now or in his next life or in the World to Come.

Total picture

We have no way of understanding G'd's judgment and how He deals with every individual. When a man passes away, we wonder why his wife had to become a widow and his children orphans. There are many instances like that where we question why good people suffer from ill health and other problems. We must acknowledge that only G'd sees the total picture, and that only He has all the pieces of the puzzle in front of Him. Every act He does is good and kind. As King David says (Tehillim 118:1) "Give thanks to G'd for He is good, for His kindness is forever." Only G'd is eternal and sees everything from the beginning of days to the end of days. This is what the prophet says in the name of G'd (Isaiah 55:8): "For My thoughts are not like your thoughts and your ways are not like My ways." G'd's thoughts and ways of conduct are based on the total picture whereas our understanding is restricted to our limited view that we experience while we dwell in this world.

Rectify mistakes

The Kabbalists explain that most individuals are brought into this world to rectify mistakes and blemishes that their souls have brought upon themselves in previous lives. G'd brings about the exact measure of suffering and problems that will bring atonement and fulfillment to each individual. When an individual's mission has been fulfilled and completed, G'd will bring about that his soul returns to its rightful place in Olam Haba, the World to Come, where the soul will experience true pleasure and enjoyment (see commentary of Vilna Gaon on the Book of Jonah 4:3 and Path of the Just, Chapter 1).

No questions to ask

In Yalkut Me'am Lo'ez (Parashas Shoftim) it is related how one of the disciples of Ramban was terminally ill. Ramban came to visit him and requested that when he would pass away and appear before the Heavenly Court, he should present some serious questions Ramban had regarding the affairs of the Jewish nation. He gave him the questions in writing together with a Kabbalistic amulet that would grant him access before the Heavenly Court. He requested that he return to him in a dream to give him the answers. The disciple passed away and not long after appeared in front of the Ramban in a dream. The disciple said, "My master, you should know that with your amulet I gained access to the highest places in the Upper World. Every door opened for me. However, when the time came for me to present your questions there were no questions to ask. In the world of truth, everything is just and righteous."

These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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